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President Vaclav Havel prepared to step down yesterday, leaving Czechoslovakia without a head of state and adding momentum to the country's rush to split into two independent states.

The playwright and former dissident was set to leave office quietly. But his departure provoked a mixture of bewilderment, regret, reproach, and incomprehension.

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Mr. Havel announced Friday he would resign yesterday after the Slovak region of the country declared sovereignty, the first major step toward full independence. "A common state would be better; I do think that even today.... But I am a realist," Havel said Sunday.

Havel was due to leave office without fuss at 6 p.m. No public ceremony was planned.

"The last link between the two [Czech and Slovak] republics has been broken," the rightist daily Telegraf said.

Havel's bid for reelection as president was blocked earlier this month by Slovak parliamentarians who accused him of standing in the way of their region's self-determination.

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